Reading level: Young adult
Trade paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Harcourt Graphia
Release date: March 20, 2012
Series: Riders of the Apocalypse #3
Source: Review copy from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Reviewed by: Jenn
Fifteen-year-old Billy Ballard is the kid that everyone picks on. But things change drastically when Death tells Billy he must stand in as Pestilence, the White Rider of the Apocalypse. Now armed with a Bow that allows him to strike with disease from a distance, Billy lashes out at his tormentors…and accidentally causes an outbreak of meningitis. Horrified by his actions, Billy begs Death to take back the Bow. For that to happen, says Death, Billy must track down the real White Rider, and stop him from unleashing something awful on humanity—something that could make the Black Plague look like a summer cold. Does one bullied teenager have the strength to stand his ground—and the courage to save the world?
Before I start writing about LOSS, I want to mention that I’ve only read one of the previous books: RAGE (my thoughts here). It was a challenging book to read because of the tough subject matter but I thought it was beautifully written. If you’ve read HUNGER or RAGE, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean: Jackie Morse Kessler tackles real, difficult subjects in the Riders of the Apocalypse series and the journey is hard on the characters and hard on the readers. I really admire her for bringing these serious issues to her readers, particularly since she does it in a way that makes her charcters’ challenges relatable. This is especially true with LOSS, which deals with bullying and, to a lesser extent, Alzheimer’s. That being said, you can definitely read LOSS without being familiar with the previous two novels.
LOSS’ main character, Billy, lives a difficult life. He’s bullied at school and no one cares, not even the teachers, and then, when he gets home, he has to take care of his grandfather, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. He’s unhappy, he’s scared, and he’s shouldering great responsibilities. And as if that’s not enough, he made a deal with the White Rider when he was a kid, which is coming back to haunt him now, since he’s asked to pick up the Bow and become Pestilence. Billy struggles to stand up for himself and to decide whether or not he should take up the mantle of the White Rider, learning to deal with his problems in a more active manner. It’s a story I think just about everyone can relate to, either because they have mean kid moments in their past or because they were the person who got pushed around. The bullying Billy experiences is particularly brutal, and the cause of the bullies’ animosity is never really explained, which makes it seem even harsher for its randomness.
For folks who are familiar with the series, there are some great moments with the Black and Red Riders, and also with Death, who seems quite different this time around. We’re starting to see that there’s more to him and it makes me very excited for BREATH, the next story in the series.
LOSS is a complex story that tackles serious issues with skill and emotion and I’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t shy away from heavy themes. Plus, Jackie is donating a portion of proceeds from LOSS to the Alzheimer’s Association, which is an important cause!